SD0620135 One Last Wally

The last group packed up and was on the road with their limits of fish by mid-morning.  The grounds are still again.  I take the girls for a walk around the campground, then walk Buddy down to the shore of Lake Oahe.  With heavy heart, I glance from end to end, relishing the prairie view across the water.  It will be time for me to pack up soon, too.  We head back to start the process.

Back at our camp, I spy JimmyK on the riding lawn mower.  His work is never done.  Back and forth, back and forth he putts along. I contemplate how much wild animal dung he actually chops up into the soil.  No wonder the grass is always so lush.  He approaches and slows to a halt.

I look down, kicking a stone loose from the ground. “Ya know, we could go fish for a while.” I gently test.

He leans back and pulls out a smoke.  He squints his eyes, looking out to the hillside.  “Well,” he starts, “I’d have to be down to the lodge by 4:00 is all.” He lights up, takes a long drag, and then methodically taps his fingers across the top of the steering wheel.

“We can do that.  I’m ok with that.”  Our eyes lock and we both crack a smile.  He drives off.

Within an hour, we’re on the water.

Today’s weather is not the same as our last day of blissful fishing.  A front came and went, leaving churned up waters, clouds and wind.  But even a bad day of fishing is better than a good day of mowing or packing up camp.

We burst across the water towards his favorite reliable hot spot.  The waves give push back to the boat.  It could be a rough ride home, but that thought is tucked far to the back of my head.   Up front is the vision of reeling in a huge trophy Walleye.  Just one.  I just want one.  Okay, maybe two.  We coast to a stop and he drops the trolling motor in.  So it begins.  Come on, fish, we’ve only a few hours to work with here.  

Back and forth we troll along a line of structure about 150 yards out from the shoreline. We see fish on the screen.  Nothing is biting.  Come on, fish!  Hours pass. Finally the clouds dissipate and the sky turns mostly blue.  We reflect on the highlights of the last few weeks.  We talk about next year plans.  We talk about the Moose Lodge.  We sit silently, waiting for something amazing to happen.  Nothing happens.

“Even a bad day of fishing is…”  

I got a bite!  Oh, a big one!  Oh, such a fighter!  My line is darting about, plunging under the boat, wildly yanking with the strength of a whale as I try to keep tension and reel in my trophy Walleye.  JimmyK is fumbling to grab the net, get into position and we are both over the top with excitement at this first hit of the day.  Reeling and reeling, we finally catch the first glimpse of my prize fish. 

There are no words.092

JimmyK shoots me a grin and I can already hear days of teasing coming on.  He leans out to grab my line, and quickly pulls up my feisty, finned friend. 

“Nice Crappie!”  He chuckles.

“And so?  So?”  I swear that fish had the power of a whale.  The fact remains that it really is a huge Crappie!

He fights to hold back a smirk.  “I said nice Crappie, didn’t I?”

“Hmmm, I don’t see you bringing anything into the boat…”  I tease back as he drops my fish into the live well.   With that we go back to the waiting game. Back and forth we go along a line of structure about 150 yards from shore.  More fish on the screen.  Still nothing is biting.  Not another soul on the water.  No sign of wildlife on land.  Just us.  We are both thinking it, but neither of us wants to be the first to say it.  It’s about time to turn back.  I hold my tongue.  So does JimmyK.  We continue our quest to catch fish.

“Ping!  Ping!” JimmyK has a hit.  He starts reeling while I grab the net.  It’s a small Walleye.  Suddenly my rod takes a bend. I drop the net and grab my pole – “Ping!  Ping!” and I too, reel up a fish.  A Catfish!  JimmyK barely gets his Walleye off the hook and has a hit on his other rod.  Another Catfish.  My 2nd rod starts to quiver as I am removing my respectable Catfish, but it’s a false alarm.  As I grab for a fresh worm, my pole acts up again. 

“You got one.” JimmyK warns.

Sure enough, “ping, ping-ping!” and I have another small Walleye.  So much for any thought of heading back.  This action keeps up for almost an hour, and we are soon filling the live-well with small “eater” Walleyes and Catfish.  There’s something about bringing a fish to the boat. Something about the anticipation of seeing what is on the end of that line.  What grabbed that worm?  And with each of us juggling two lines, the non-stop action is nothing less than comical.  It’s excitement as though it’s the first time, every time, landing these little guys.

That is, until the action subsides.  Slowly our catching frenzy dials down to a fish here and there, with time in between.  JimmyK does a fish count.  We are golden, we’ll both have limits again today.  We are shy just three Walleyes.  I keep an eye on him for any sign of realizing he should be at the Moose Club right now.  Nope.  Seems totally unaware.  Come on, fish, just three more.  Where’s that big one hiding?

JimmyK pulls out a smoke and leans back in his chair.  “Ya know, we need to think about heading back.”

Dang, he’s aware.  “But, just three more fish!”  I respond.

He takes a long drag and looks across the top of the water.  “I’ll show you how it’s done.” He says with a sly smile, and reels in a line to re-cast. I keep fishing, hoping he’ll just lose track of the time again.

“There it is!”  He says as he completes his cast.  He gets comfortable in his chair and pulls another drag on his cigarette. There’s something about sitting quietly in the boat.  Somehow, that quiet concentration is supposed to manifest into better chances of catching a fish.  Or not.   We wait, and wait, and half an hour goes by.

“Well……. we should probably…”

“I got one!” I shout, and begin reeling.  Just in the nick of time.  I know he was going to say we have to leave.  As I continue closing the gap, I realize my fish is skipping across the water. 

“Well you caught some bait, anyway” JimmyK teases.  Okay, so now I can say I caught the smallest fish of the entire trip.  I gently release my little fishy, muttering that it sure had a big fish appetite.   As I dig for another worm, JimmyK abruptly stands up.

“Okay this is it!” he announces.  “Reel up quick. Get the net ready.  Get to the side.  Get there now. The net. The NET!”  He is barking orders, all charged up.  I grab his 2nd rod out of the way, rapidly reel in both of my lines and dive for the net just in time to see a huge dark mound surface and then plunge under the boat. 

“Get the net, the net!”

“I am, I am!” and I try to scoop the writhing fish out from the dark waters.  God, it must be one of those creepy huge carp, but I can’t tell, I can’t get it netted.

 “Quick, net it!” 

“I am, I am!” and I make another pass to pull the mesh across the long dark finned creature and pull up. 

“Oh geeze, it’s heavy and fighting like mad!”   Instantly, JimmyK drops his rod to help me lift the net into the rocking boat.

“What is it? What is it?” Violently flipping, poles clanging, people clamoring; well, we look like we’re trying to do a dance or something as the net hits the floor of the boat.  He puts a foot onto the net to hold the fish, bends over and begins removing the mesh as I scramble to make sure no poles went overboard. 076

The fight ends.  Beaming ear to ear, JimmyK rises up holding a great big Walleye. 

“Now, this is how you do it!”  He exclaims.  Wow!  It has to be ten pounds.  He does a quick measure and determines it’s just over nine pounds.  Wow, really nice fish!  Time to do the Fish Dance!!!

“There’s got to be another one down there!”  I say, quickly casting my lines back in the water.   

“Ya know, we need to get heading back.”  

“But, we’re almost there, just two more fish!”  I respond, turning my full attention out into the water.

“Ten more minutes.” 

“Okay, okay.”  I know it will be twenty.   His big fish stirs up some more thrashing in the live well.

The clock is ticking as we make another pass along the shoreline.  And another pass.  And another….

JimmyK stands up again.   “Ahhh, it’s an eater.” He announces while reeling in another Walleye.

I am cursed.  I am jinxed.  He sadly motions me to reel in my lines.  It’s been twenty minutes.  Oh, okay.  We’ve had a good day.  An unexpected, good day.  Just one fish shy of two limits.  And all those Cat Fish!  And that Crappie!  Not a bad day.  One pole done, now for the other. 

“Ping, PING! PING! PING!” 

“OH! JImmyK, OH! I got one!  It’s BIIGGGG!”  I am struggling to reel my line in.  It’s probably a Skipper Jack or a Drum, with the intense darting about.  I reel and reel while JimmyK gets the net ready.088

He snags my fish and whisks it into the boat.  We uncover the netting to discover another nice Walleye!

“That –a-girl, that’s the way!”  He exclaims as I pull my big fish up off of the mesh net.  I am beaming. A quick measure tells us it’s just under 9 pounds.  A fine Walleye.

“Don’t you have to be at the Lodge?  Like, a couple hours ago?” 

JimmyK shoots me a look, pulls up the trolling motor, and we slam across the top of the water, bracing the wind the whole way back to the boat launch. It’s a rough ride, but all we’re thinking about is the great afternoon of fishing we just had.  We get back to the camp and clean fish for an hour before JimmyK departs to the Moose Lodge.  I spend the remainder of the evening packing up my temporary home.

When JimmyK returns at the end of the evening we sit in the lodge and share some Wild Turkey Honey with his visiting brother who just purchased an outfitting camp two towns away.  We laugh and tell stories until I am too tired to hold my eyes open.  What a great way to end a most excellent South Dakota fishing adventure.  Sadly, all good things eventually come to an end, even this. With a heavy heart, I bid them a good night, knowing I will slip away before dawn, with a full freezer and dozens of great fish tales.

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